In 1999, the Orchard View Cardinals scored like nobody had ever seen. They put 774 points on the board, flying to the State Championship game. In the Division 5 final at the Silverdome, they fell 39-32 to Detroit Country Day.
One day short of 22 years after that stunning defeat, Unity Christian kicked off their State Championship game against Chelsea. The ‘Saders were 23 points shy of Orchard View’s record, with their eyes set on the Division 4 State Championship. Standing in their way were the undefeated Chelsea Bulldogs. Though Unity would set scoring records in this shootout, they would suffer the same crushing fate as Orchard View. A field goal in the closing seconds gave Chelsea the 55-52 victory, and the school’s first State Championship.
Chelsea provided a stunning start to this game, with a 10-play, 80-yard touchdown drive. Lucas Dunn found Lucas Hanifan for the 33-yard touchdown. The Bulldogs converted the extra point to take a 7-0 lead. On the ‘Saders first play from scrimmage, Jason Skoczylas forced a fumble and gave Chelsea the football back. A shocking start continued, as Chelsea found the end zone again. Taking advantage of the field position, they went 25 yards in 8 plays, capped off by a 5-yard toss from Lucas Dunn to Cole Munson.
Trailing 14-0, the Unity Christian offense found its footing. They pounded the football down the field before Ethan VanOtterloo reeled off a 19-yard dash to the end zone. The ‘Saders would secure the lead before the end of the first quarter, as Cam Chandler aired it out. He connected with Jayden DeVries on a 25-yard touchdown strike. Micah Bush’s conversion run put Unity ahead 16-14.
Unity Christian continued their offensive run in the second quarter, with a fast touchdown march. This time, Drew Chandler broke free, sprinting 39 yards to the end zone. Cam Chandler’s conversion run gave the ‘Saders a ten-point advantage, and the MHSAA single-season scoring record with 775 points.
On the ensuing Bulldogs possession, Cam Chandler stepped in front of a pass and flipped the field with an interception return to the Chelsea 9 yard line. Three plays later, Chandler powered across the goal line from two yards out. His twin, Drew, added the two-point run to create an 18-point advantage for Unity Christian. Chelsea finally snapped the 32-point run with a 26-yard field goal by Hunter Shaw.
Before the half, Unity Christian would score one final time. They covered 75 yards in six plays, with Cam and Drew Chandler connecting on a pass that covered the final 27 yards. A failed conversion left them ahead 38-17 at halftime.
Unity Christian began the second half with the football, and their offensive roll continued. Cam Chandler broke free for a 29-yard touchdown run. It was another quick-strike drive for the ‘Saders, as they took just fifty-three seconds to cover sixty-five yards. This was the peak of Unity Christian’s lead, 45-17, with 11:07 to go in the third quarter. At this moment, many (myself included) felt as if this was going to be a fitting coronation for the greatest offense in State history.
Chelsea had other plans in mind, starting on their next drive. They went thirteen plays, taking five minutes to march down the field. Trent Hill capped off the drive with the final thirteen yards, including a 3-yard touchdown plunge. A successful extra point trimmed the deficit to 21. After forcing a turnover on downs, the Bulldogs took over just shy of midfield. This time, they needed just six plays to find the end zone. Lucas Dunn and Hanifan paired up for another score, this time an 11-yard completion. Shaw’s extra point brought Chelsea within fourteen, 45-31, after three quarters of play.
Unity Christian responded with the first touchdown of the fourth quarter. Cam Chandler broke free on a 35-yard sprint past oncoming Bulldog tacklers. This score cemented Unity Christian’s offensive legacy by becoming the first team to cross the 800-point plateau in a single season (803), but more importantly it gave them a 21-point edge with 10:37 to go.
Chelsea would begin their march back at their own 28 yard line. The Bulldogs went to the air, attempting a pass on all seven plays. Lucas Dunn completed five of them, including a 21-yard touchdown to Lucas Hanifan. This brought Chelsea back within two scores.
A failed onside kick attempt gave the Crusaders the ball at their own 43 yard line with 8:25 to go. The offense stalled, and for the first time this season, Unity Christian had to punt the football away. Drew Chandler, who turns out is also the Unity Christian punter, booted it into the end zone for a touchback.
The quick-strike aerial attack of Chelsea got them down the field quickly. After a 22-yard toss on their opening play, they got a 22-yard run from Cole Munson to move deep into Unity territory. Lucas Dunn then found Hanifan for yet another touchdown. This 29-yard completion brought the Bulldogs within seven with 6:14 to play.
On the opening play of their next drive, Unity Christian fumbled the football away. Braden Watson was able to jump on the loose ball, giving the Chelsea fantastic field position at the ‘Saders 19 yard line. Just three plays later, Dunn and Hanifan linked up for the fifth touchdown connection of the evening. Hunter Shaw’s extra point knotted up the score at 52.
Unity Christian began their next possession with 4:43 on the clock, at their own 20 yard line. They made some headway, covering 25 yards in 7 plays. Unfortunately for the ‘Saders, the turnover bug plagued them again. For the second straight drive, Braden Watson was the hero, recovering the football for Chelsea at midfield.
The Bulldogs were unable to capitalize on the moment, as they committed their own turnover. Drew Chandler stepped in front of a pass, forcing Lucas Dunn into throwing his second interception of the evening. This gave the ‘Saders the football back at their own 34 yard line with 1:11 to go. The State’s best offense would get another chance to capture this victory.
For the third straight series, Unity Christian could not hold onto the football. This time, the ball bounced straight into the hands of Regan Plank. Chelsea would take over at the Unity 35 with 46 seconds to go.
After a 2-yard gain to start the series, Lucas Dunn took to the air. He found his favorite target of the evening, Hanifan, for a 13-yard catch, their ninth connection of the evening. This brought Chelsea twenty yards away from the end zone, into the fringe of field goal range. After a four-yard carry by Trent Hill, the Bulldogs sent Hunter Shaw out for a 33-yard field goal attempt. Unity Christian looked to ice Shaw with timeouts, but it would not prevail. The Bulldogs’ kicker booted the ball through the uprights, sneaking inside the right post, delivering Chelsea their first-ever State Championship and completing one of the greatest comebacks in State Championship game history.
Unity Christian finishes the year with a 13-1 record after this crushing defeat. They racked up 491 yards of offense, with 393 on the ground. Cam Chandler was 3/5 passing for 98 yards and two scores, and he added 112 yards and three more touchdowns on the ground. Drew Chandler led Unity with 182 rushing yards, and 73 receiving yards.
Chelsea outgained Unity Christian with 533 yards. They were balanced with 308 passing yards and 225 on the ground. Lucas Dunn was 25/36 passing overcoming two interception to rack up 308 yards and six touchdowns. His 308 passing yards mark just the eighth time in finals history a quarterback has thrown for over 300 yards, while his 25 completions are third most all-time (behind Cooper Rush and AJ Westendorp with 26 each). Dunn’s six passing touchdowns is a new MHSAA Finals Record.
Lucas Hanifan’s nine receptions put him in a tie for ninth place in MHSAA finals history. He shattered the Finals Receiving Touchdown record with a 5-touchdown performance, as the previous record was three. Hanifan finished the evening with 139 receiving yards. Trenton Hill secured the ground attack with 149 yards and a score on 33 carries.
In an epic shootout for the ages, setting a new MHSAA Finals record with 107 total points (previous record 94), Chelsea won one of the most-thrilling games in Finals history. The comeback can only be rivaled by Belding’s ferocious 19-point comeback in 1994. Not many outside of that Chelsea sideline felt they held a chance, especially after trailing by 28 points. After thrilling last-second victories in the Regional Finals against Country Day and the Semifinals against Freeland, Saturday evening was a fitting final chapter in the story of the Chelsea Bulldogs and their 2021 championship season.